Jason Stuart mixes it up

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Wednesday June 30, 2010

Back in the 1990s Jason Stuart made his mark with his Coming Out Comedy Tour, which made him the first out comic to appear in a major comedy clubs. In the ensuing years he made the successful leap to acting, having appeared in more than 100 films and television shows in both gay and straight roles. Most recently Stuart was seen on The Closer as the owner of a storage facility that discovers a dead body. It's a performance that is being considered for an Emmy Award nomination.

He also may be a familiar face from his appearances on Will & Grace, George Lopez, Everybody Hates Chris, House, M.D., It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Charmed, to name a few. He is best known playing "Dr. Thomas", the gay family therapist on My Wife and Kids. Some of his more recent film roles include Coffee Date (for which he was nominated for a Gay International Film Award for best supporting actor), the recent remake of The Pit and the Pendulum (the gay version in which he plays the villain) and his own totally improvised independent film 10 Attitudes.

In his role as the chair of the Screen Actors Guild National LGBT Actors Committee, Stuart made headlines recently when asked to respond to Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh's contention that gay actors couldn't convincingly play straight roles. "It's damaging words like his that continue to be used to pressure actors to stay in the closet, and place doubt in those in positions of power about their casting choices," Stuart wrote in LA Frontiers Magazine. "At the end of the day, though, if Setoodeh can't accept a gay actor in a straight role, then that's really his problem, isn't it? And he needs to keep that in the closet."

But it is stand-up that brings Stuart to Provincetown this week when he appears with Poppy Champlin at the Art House on Friday and Saturday, July 2 and 3, for a show entitled Boy on Girl Comedy... No Touching EDGE caught with Stuart recently where he answered questions about acting vs. stand-up, playing straight roles, and that Setoodeh snafu.

A sister act?

EDGE: You're in Provincetown at the Art House for two nights with Poppy Champlin. Is this a sister act?

Jason Stuart: Well Poppy would call it a brother act! But I love Poppy and her talent and am thrilled to be performing with her.

EDGE: Have you performed at the Art House before?

Jason Stuart: No. But have met Michelle Crone the owner and excited to work with there! I Love Ptown. No big companies are in the Ptown, but main street is call Commercial Street.

EDGE: Do you consider yourself an actor who does stand-up or a stand-up comic who is a character actor?

Jason Stuart: An actor who does stand-up. Like Barbra Streisand is an actress who sings.

Negative impact?

EDGE: You were one of the first -- if not the first -- out comics. I take it being out has never been an issue for you, but do you think it has had any negative impact on your career?

Jason Stuart: I was not the first, (I was) sort of in the second wave. Robin Tyler, Michael Greer and Kate Clinton come out way before me. It created a whole different career for me, one that I thought I would never have. I have got to do so many wonderful things. The late night talk shows still are a boys club, but the comedy clubs were great to me.

EDGE: You do a lecture -- Coming Out in Hollywood -- to largely corporate audiences. Could you describe it?

Jason Stuart: I talk about what is like to be openly gay in the workplace. I am funny or serious whatever the client wants. I also show clips and answer a lot of questions? Like when did you know you gay, I say Thursday! They had a meeting at Elton Johns' house... and they choose me!

EDGE: What do you find funny?

Jason Stuart: My parents, my mother all the time. I was on the phone with her last week told I was dating this guy Raoul. She says is he gay? I said no, he's a leprechaun! Of course he's gay. That's the most important part!

EDGE: Ptown audiences are notoriously rowdy. How do you handle a disruptive audience?

Jason Stuart: Bring it on, I love a rowdy crowd. I am gay and Jewish, so loud is my kind of comedy!

EDGE: What has been a career high point?

Jason Stuart: This last year guest-starring on The Closer with Kyra Sedgwick and having the show put my in consideration for and Emmy nomination. I know I will never get it but it was so nice. And I loved playing the role... A straight guy was a manager of a storage unit who finds a dead body.

EDGE: And, conversely, a low point?

Jason Stuart: Not really having a place in the comedy community. That's why my stand up special was called Jason Stuart: Making It To The Middle. There is a glass ceiling in the stand up world for out gay male comedians. Where do we fit in? It seems gay men like women comedians best, lesbians like women best, straight guys like straight guy comedians best, so we have some work to support our own. Don't get me wrong we have come a long way. But sometime the one who makes the path does not get to drive in the same way. But In the long run, I feel really lucky I get to make a living doing what I love and I am very grateful.

EDGE: You say in your web bio that you achieve "brutal honesty with humor in a world that's not always kind." Could you elaborate on that quote?

Jason Stuart: Well growing up gay was not easy in the 70s. I was that kid who was beat up and slammed in the lockers. It shaped my life. I could have been Matthew Shepherd. I am very lucky, that's why I mentor a kid and produce a pushed comedy benefit for Lifeworks in Los Angeles. Visit the event's website.

Playing straight roles

EDGE: Do you have any idols in comedy?

Jason Stuart: Lily Tomlin is doing it at the highest level. Loved Joan Rivers from day one, Alec Mapa is so good, Mario Cantone is so fast on his feet, Louis Anderson could get a laugh for just turning his head, and so many more.

EDGE: In the current documentary about Joan Rivers, it is apparent that she gets much of her humor from being angry. Not to generalize to broadly, but is anger a crucial element in any comic's personality?

Jason Stuart: I think feeling left out is it for me. If I felt loved growing up I would have a good job rather that trying to make 1000s of people make me laugh all the time! And pretending to be somebody else! in TV & film of course.

EDGE: As the chair of the Screen Actors Guild National LGBT Actors Committee, have you seen first-hand any change in Hollywood's attitude towards LGBT characters in films and television?

Jason Stuart: Yes, for me this was the year of playing straight guys, The Closer, Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia, the indi film Walk A Mile In Pradas And The Truth About Layla... and on Wareen, The Ape on August 16th on MTV... all playing straight guys. So the showbiz world is a changin'.

EDGE: What is the committee's mission?

Jason Stuart: Educating the Screen Actors Guild membership, entertainment industry and general public about LGBT actors' issues; ending discrimination against LGBT actors in the Educating the Screen Actors Guild membership, entertainment industry and general public about LGBT actors' issues; ending discrimination against LGBT actors in the workplace; and expanding work opportunities for LGBT actors.

EDGE: A few years ago Brokeback Mountain was seen as a film that was going to help initiate more gay-themed commercial films. Yet since then only Milk has come close. Why do you think Hollywood still is reluctant to embrace films with LGBT themes and major gay characters?

Jason Stuart: Both those films had straight leads. My committee is about supporting out actors whatever their role is. I think the industry has a long way to go in treating all races equal. (As for LGBT actors) it is much better now and we are all working on it.

EDGE: You were outspoken about Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh's contention that gay actors couldn't convincingly play straight roles. Have you had the chance to address him directly?

Jason Stuart: No, he seems to have gone into the witness protection program. lol

EDGE: If you had the opportunity to speak to him directly, what would you say to him?

Jason Stuart: Why? And why does the press only want to do stories about negative things rather than a follow up story on who's doing well.

EDGE: You have been doing a lot of television lately -- do you ever feel typecast as the gay character?

Jason Stuart: I have been lucky and get to play both straight and gay. I played a few gays guys of late. In a pilot for NBC, The Pink House and a few in films Gay Baby and currently working on Finding Mr. Wright.

EDGE: What do you think of Rupert Everett's advice that an aspiring actor in Hollywood should stay in the closet?

Jason Stuart: I would kill you and two other people to have his career. I think he needs to be more grateful, but I love him just the same.

EDGE: Is it hard to balance your busy career with a personal life?

Jason Stuart: What personal life! I have great friends and both my parents are still alive and I live nicely. A good man would make it perfect!

Jason Stuart appears with Poppy Champlin on Friday and Saturday, July 2 and 3, 2010 at The Art House, 214 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA. For more information visit the Art House website. For more on Jason Stuart's upcoming appearances, visit his website.

Fri. & Sat. July [email protected] 7pm - Jason returns to Provincetown for 2 shows only with his pal POPPY CHAMPLIN at THE ART HOUSE - info: 508.487.9222 - 214 Commercial Street.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].